The chief of the Sipekne’katik First Nation says its self-regulated lobster fishery in Nova Scotia will continue despite opposition from non-Indigenous commercial fishers that erupted in threats and violence this week.
Angry mobs damaged two facilities that handle lobster catches from Mi’kmaw fishers on Tuesday.
The two incidents took place in New Edinburgh, N.S., and Middle West Pubnico, N.S.
Jason Marr, a fisherman with Sipekne’katik First Nation, was one of the people stuck inside the lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico, N.S., as a crowd estimated to be as large as 200 people gathered outside.
“They vandalized (my van) and they were peeing on it. Pouring things into the fuel tank, cutting electrical wires, smashed the windows… kicking and punching and hitting it with objects,” Marr told Global News by phone on Wednesday.
Marr says the non-Indigenous men threatened to “burn” his group out of the building if they didn’t leave and allow them to seize the lobster.
“I thought they were gonna kill me,” the Mi’kmaw fisherman said.
Despite calling 911 multiple times, Marr says the RCMP took two hours to arrive.
But even when they arrived, Marr says the RCMP did nothing and instead encouraged the group inside the lobster pound to leave.
“They came in and told me that ‘there is over 120 of them out here. There’s nothing we can do to protect you. All we can do is get you out of here and leave. We can’t protect you,’” he said.
He eventually left. The non-Indigenous fishermen destroyed his catch, which he estimated was probably worth $40,000.
On Wednesday, the RCMP did not answer a request to respond to Marr’s allegations but in a press release said they were investigating the two “disturbances” that occurred on Tuesday.
The events in Middle West Pubnico were nearly exactly the same as those that played out only hours earlier in New Edinburgh.
Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Michael Sack said a large crowd swarmed the lobster pound there, removing and damaging video cameras at the facility. The crowd then ransacked the lobster pound and storage facility where the lobster catch was to be housed.
Posts on social media that have been circulated by people defending both raids claim to show egg-bearing female lobsters, which are not supposed to be harvested. According to the social media posters, it’s proof that Indigenous fishermen are fishing incorrectly.
But Sack said those lobsters are not his band’s property and that both of the facilities that were raided buy and store lobster from both commercial and Mi’kmaw fishers.
The non-Indigenous protesters have said they are opposed to a decision by the First Nation to start a commercial lobster fishing business that has operated outside the federally regulated lobster season since mid-September.
But the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada Marshall decision has affirmed treaty rights to fish or hunt for a “moderate livelihood,” although it allows Ottawa to set regulations in consultation with Indigenous communities and for the purpose of conservation.
The incidents on Tuesday were only the latest in a series of escalating tensions between the two sides.
Last week a boat owned by one of the fishermen operating under the moderate livelihood fishery was set on fire and destroyed.
At the time, RCMP said they were investigating the cause of the fire but had ruled it suspicious.
Meanwhile, Sack is asking his people not to react to the latest incidents and to avoid violence, saying he wants them “to take the high road.”
—With files from The Canadian Press
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